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  • Ritaban Mitra

The Truth about Amazon Prime Day

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Last week, American e-commerce multinational organisation Amazon officially turned 25 years old and this week it organised the huge "prime day" operation yet again, another sale with special emphasis for its prime subscribers.

Amazon was one of the first companies to disrupt the retail sector, and has had continual success over the years by adapting to the market, designing new business models and strongly integrating technology. Over the years, Amazon has come a long way from being an online bookstore to selling every commercial product under the sun and in recent years, has expanded into the digital media space with services such as Amazon music and prime video streaming services and has also ventured into the cloud based technology, thereby keeping themselves relevant.

Despite their diverse ventures, their prime services remain a key source of income as it provides a lot of benefits to the subscriber - they get to comfortably order their product of choice through a screen rather than go to an actual store and make a purchase, and the product is promised to be delivered within a very short duration (usually ranging from 1-2 days). This speed of service is highly competitive with other e-commerce vendors struggling to keep up with such delivery promises. Amazon is able to achieve such quality of service at the cost of the employees in their warehouses.

An Amazon warehouse

Amazon's workforce has nearly doubled over the last three years with their workforce approaching 650,000 employees worldwide.While the profit margins of some of Amazon's streaming or cloud based services may be high, Amazon certainly has low margins of profit when it comes to their logistics services and this is because there are many more factors that affect a product's shipping on time such as its processing, packaging, transportation (assuming there's good weather), and when there are so many aspects to consider, Amazon has developed a system where they try to maximise the efficiency of the employees by:

->Dividing work into tasks

->Timing different tasks

->Minimising breaks for workers

->Long duration of shifts

These constraints often push the workers to their limits and sometimes feels like exploitation according to some employees, who are paid 15$ minimum wage (US hourly employees) and hence has been a controversial topic leading to employees forming unions- an association of workers representing employees in all bargaining and legal activities.

Amazon like many multinational corporations has openly been against the idea of trade unions as they could cause potential disagreements and problems that may affect the share holders and affect their stocks eventually.

The inhumane working conditions is not a new problem as Amazon has had related controversies over the last decade such as:

->In 2011, it was publicised that workers had to carry out tasks in 100 °F (38 °C) heat at the Pennsylvania warehouse. As a result of these inhumane conditions, employees became extremely uncomfortable and suffered from dehydration and collapse. Loading-bay doors were not opened to allow in fresh air because of concerns over theft. Amazon's initial response was to pay for an ambulance to sit outside on call to cart away overheated employees. The company eventually installed air conditioning at the warehouse.

Some workers, "pickers", who travel the building with a trolley and a handheld scanner "picking" customer orders can walk up to 15 miles during their workday and if they fall behind on their targets, they can be reprimanded. The handheld scanners give real-time information to the employee on how quickly or slowly they are working; the scanners also serve to allow Team Leads and Area Managers to track the specific locations of employees and how much "idle time" they gain when not working.

->In March 2015, it was reported in The Verge that Amazon will be removing incomplete clauses of 18 months in length from its US employment contracts for hourly-paid workers, after criticism that it was acting unreasonably in preventing such employees from finding other work. Even short-term temporary workers have to sign contracts that prohibit them from working at any company where they would "directly or indirectly" support any good or service that competes with those they helped support at Amazon, for 18 months after leaving Amazon, even if they are fired or made redundant.

->A 2015 front-page article in The New York Times profiled several former Amazon employees who together described a "bruising" workplace culture in which workers with illness or other personal crises were pushed out or unfairly evaluated.Bezos responded by writing a Sunday memo to employees, in which he disputed the Times's account of "shockingly callous management practices" that he said would never be tolerated at the company.

In an effort to boost employee morale, on November 2, 2015, Amazon announced that it would be extending six weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers. This change includes birth parents and adoptive parents and can be applied in conjunction with existing maternity leave and medical leave for new mothers.

This difference in power and authority can be crippling to the employees who are often subjected to very difficult circumstances of working conditions.

->On Black Friday 2018, Amazon warehouse workers in several European countries, including Italy, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom, went on strike to protest inhumane working conditions and low pay.

->The Daily Beast reported in March 2019 that emergency services responded to 189 calls from 46 Amazon warehouses in 17 states between the years 2013 and 2018, all relating to suicidal employees. The workers attributed their mental breakdowns to employer-imposed social isolation, aggressive surveillance, and the hurried and dangerous working conditions at these fulfillment centers. One former employee told The Daily Beast "It's this isolating colony of hell where people having breakdowns is a regular occurrence.

Factory workers in an Amazon warehouse in Minnesota are planning a six hour strike to demand a safer work environment and more secure employment. The idea behind this protest is to bring to the attention of more people the fact that the success of prime day is dependent on the factory workers and they should not be exploited and ignored.

Another aspect of the protest to be considered is that we should consider supporting small scale local businesses more as it is more healthy and beneficial for the economy as a whole rather than filling up the pockets of the already super rich Amazon who has made an entire fortune by dominating small scale businesses and creating a monopoly.

With all of this being said, it is difficult to ignore all the benefits that Amazon presents to the user- such as having the comfort of ordering and buying our favourite items from our home without having to go out.

The movement is still in its initial stages and by no means should stop you from buying in the prime day sales.But before you do go ahead and check-out, a couple of things to keep in mind are to think about if you really need something before you buy it, and if you can buy them somewhere else.

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